Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Best of 2015: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

12271372_10154545164654848_1304419480_o

Another year, another dual-pronged countdown for the uncommon – and much appreciated – K-Pop album fan. If you’re reading this you’re probably either looking for some recommendations to expand your music horizons, or you are in very, very deep with Korean pop music. Sometimes the flashy K-Pop surface singles aren’t what you feel like listening to, and you want to see what weird and wonderful B-sides/album compositions are out there in the K-Pop world.

Well the good news is that 2015 was just as good a year for Korean albums as it was for the MV tracks, and I’m here to give you my opinion on some of the better ones. This time around, you might actually be able to listen to these in full, because 2015 wasn’t just a big year for K-Pop albums in terms of quality, but in terms of accessibility.

That’s right, the advent of Apple Music back in June was a pretty sizeable game-changer for album fans living outside of Korea. Due to the California giant’s insane worldwide reach, most K-Pop releases make it onto iTunes, and that phenomenon translates to Apple Music streaming availability almost one-to-one. So if you have a membership you can now browse the delights and the duds of K-Pop’s longer form to your heart’s content. For real.

As usual the list is split into two top fives – one for Mini Albums (your EPs, basically) and one for Full Albums, which qualify when they contain eight or more tracks (like LPs, yo). Also, there are a couple of albums that would have made this list – Big Bang’s MADE and iKon’s Welcome Back – had their labels not insisted these releases “aren’t complete yet”. So I gave them the benefit of the doubt for next year.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

– – – – – – – –
MINI ALBUMS
– – – – – – – –

5. Pink Funky – MAMAMOO

MAMAMOO’s early momentum continued in 2015 with a huge number of individual member collaborations, MV releases and infectiously energetic live performances, and they backed it all up with a strong mini-album that can sit nicely next to their incredible debut EP. The songs plug into MAMAMOO’s duelling styles with panache, leading off with brazen brass loops and Moonbyul hip-hop on Freaking Shoes, sailing through squeaky synths on Um Oh Ah Yeh , syncing up with their flagship retro concept on No No No and then hitting it out of the park on the Sunday afternoon jam Self Camera. Even the comparatively generic ballad A Little Bit and the hook-lite Esna vehicle Ahh Oop! are improved by rounding out this fun sophomore effort.


.

Continue reading

Best of 2015: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

12271372_10154545164654848_1304419480_o

It’s really difficult for me to keep up with K-Pop these days. The scene moves through songs, groups, soloists and promotion cycles as fast as ever, and as I keep harping on about this week, I have far less free time these days to take any of it in. I thought I might need to drop the music out of my life in order to keep doing the other things I enjoy throughout 2015, but luckily I didn’t have to, thanks to a little podcast called This Week in K-Pop (plug time), a twice-monthly audio show put together by two Americans living in Korea that showcases and critiques new K-Pop releases of both mainstream and a slightly lesser-known nature.

Combined with a meaty morning and evening commute, this meant I was able to keep building my usual K-Pop single countdown list throughout the year, and even do so from a wider pool than ever before. As a result I actually had a full top 15 ready to go way back in early August. From then on, it was a bit of a headache to decide what new additions would leave and what would stay, leaving me with possibly my most carefully constructed list since I started doing this three years ago.

By and large, it was the beats that defined 2015’s Korean pop music output. After a constantly tumultuous, frequently uninspired, often dull and occasionally tragic 2014 for the Korean popular music industry, 2015 proved that the wildly successful, still-young subsection of world music was more than capable of reinventing itself and delivering surprises. K-Pop’s so-called “identity” is now more difficult to categorise in Western terms than ever, as it continues to stretch its tendrils into heavier contemporary EDM backing tracks, quirky samples and widely spreading subgenres while refusing to back away from the ’90s-inspired idol group structures, creative knife-point choreography and insanely high production values that have defined it from the very beginning.

Short version: K-Pop was back in a big way in 2015.

As always, no album B-sides or non-Korean language songs from K-Pop artists are eligible for this list – generally only songs with MVs (music videos) appear, even though that meant I had to scratch some really good Infinity Challenge/Unpretty Rapstar songs this year. As always I have taken said MVs into consideration when ordering the list, but ultimately the song itself is the biggest contributing factor, and I tried to keep that in mind at all times. Also, this year I just went ahead and made my previous “unwritten rule” an official one – no more than one song from an artist or group can make it on. Now I’ve waffled on long enough, so let’s watch some K-Pop videos.

time that .
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

15. Wiggle Wiggle – Hellovenus

We might as well kick things off with the earliest song of the year to appear on this list – It dropped on January 8th 2015, hot on the heels of a viral video featuring the girls of Hellovenus practicing a dance cover of Jason Derulo’s Wiggle. And despite how opportunistic and cynical the move was, it resulted in an incredibly catchy song with a thumping club beat that would set the stage for similar bass-dominated hits in the year to come.

And yeah, this isn’t the “real” music video, because the actual one is easily of the tackiest, cheapest quality, most poorly edited MVs I have ever seen (it’s here if you really want to watch it).
.

Continue reading

Best of 2015: Top 10 Disappointments

12271372_10154545164654848_1304419480_o

Let’s get this 100-mile-an-hour time of year started with some good old fashioned negativity, shall we?

It doesn’t really feel like 2015 was a particularly disappointing year in entertainment media, at least not in terms of things that weren’t my own fault (such as the fact that I barely saw any movies this year due to the relative lack of gigantic blockbusters). I can’t really think of too many releases that fell far below my own expectations quality-wise, but there was enough ancillary stuff going on around those releases to fill a list. The list is very heavily skewed towards videogames this year, but when there were so very many big ones released, you might say such a trend was inevitable. Maybe. Anyway, here we go.

.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-
VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

.

10. The Order’s Beautiful Failure

After a 2014 that saw Microsoft’s lead console trounce Sony’s in the exclusive games department – despite lagging behind in sales – 2015 looked set to be the year that Sony hit back. And it was going to hit back very early. February saw the release of The Order: 1886, quite simply the best-looking game that had come out on either major console at the time. The story was intriguing, the weapons looked cool, and the game received a ton of marketing support. And it was over very, very quickly. A game with a largely repetitive combat loop that I finished in a single day – something very rare indeed – The critical consensus on The Order: 1886 was not particularly kind. The general internet reaction was, predictably, much worse. I don’t think it was a bad game per se – The story and gunplay were decent enough to pull me through the whole game, after all – but no replay value or extra content to speak of is pretty hard to justify with a full-priced retail game in today’s climate. The Order: 1886 certainly failed to live up to its billing as the PS4’s first exceptional exclusive title – nope, apparently that came a month later with Bloodborne.
Continue reading

I Went to Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions at the Sydney Opera House

Yep, another concert post! What a time to be alive.

I’ve lived in Australia for 17 years now, and been a tourist to these great shores before that. But last night marked the very first time I had the pleasure of entering the Sydney Opera House. My reason for doing so was not exactly standard for the venue, mind you, but it was certainly worth the wait. The long-hyped orchestral treatment of the music from the Pokémon series had finally arrived in our backyard, and the event did not disappoint.

It was a bit of a sore spot for me that I had never seen the famous Sydney Symphony Orchestra live in any capacity, not least of all because that meant I’d missed both 2011’s Distant Worlds concert (music from Final Fantasy) and 2013’s Symphony of the Goddesses (music from the Legend of Zelda series). But I was never going to miss this one, and there were very obviously hundreds of others who felt the same, because there was a real excited buzz in and around the iconic Darling Harbour venue. Continue reading

I Went to Bigbang’s MADE Tour 2015

The first of two concerts I’ll hopefully be writing about before the end of the year! This post got long…

Well what a treat that was.

In the world of K-Pop, there are few bigger acts than Big Bang (Is that the right way to write it? I’m never sure – Should it be Bigbang? Or BIGBANG, even? Let’s just go with the way that makes the most English sense). Debuting nine long years ago, the YG Entertainment flagship group has been consistently at the top of the K-Pop consciousness for a while, and has amassed quite a considerable reputation in the Western music world as well. Outside of PSY and perhaps Girls’ Generation, there isn’t a more widely recognised K-Pop name than Big Bang. Just about every solo release from the group’s five extremely busy members is met with pandemonium by fans, and when all five get together, well, that’s something else.

So it was a big enough deal when Big Bang announced earlier this year that they would be coming out with their first release(s) as a group since 2012. I never expected that in their subsequent world tour announcement, Australia would be included. Yes, the country ritually ignored by the big name Korean music labels, especially since the relatively disappointing – though still loud and passionate – attendance at 2011’s poorly-marketed K-Pop Festival. Yep, the arrival of Big Bang on our shores for the first time – for two rapidly sold-out shows no less (and a reactively added third) – is probably going to be pretty significant for Korean pop music fans down under going forward.

But never mind all that. Big Bang’s second Sydney show, which I was lucky enough to attend alongside five friends, was just a really good time.

wpid-wp-1445422171585.jpg

Yep, it really happened.

I’ve been to one K-Pop concert before – B.A.P’s Live on Earth tour appearance in Sydney last year, and it was a lot of fun. But this was next level. Yeah, that’s mostly because Allphones Arena is a much bigger and more technically impressive venue than the Big Top, of course, not to mention Big Bang has more money to put into a spectacular show than B.A.P does. The boys from YG have also been around for far longer, and have built their name up over a sizeable body of work. G-Dragon, T.O.P, Daesung, Seungri and Taeyang are walking legends in their field, and they wouldn’t have had to do much to send the beyond-feverish crowd into raptures. Yet if you ask me, they matched their much younger colleagues in just about every way on stage, turning what was already a major event into one hell of a night.

Continue reading

Album Review: REBOOT – Wonder Girls

That’s it – It’s happening. I’m finally going to start reviewing K-pop albums. Perhaps not regularly, mind you, but any reason I may have had against doing so in the past is starting to look a bit arbitrary in light of how little content I’m able to get up on this blog these days. Sometimes if an opportunity appears, you have to take it. And people should know about such brilliance as this. People. Should. Know.

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Released:
August 2015
Label:
 JYP Entertainment
Genre: K-Pop
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

 

It’s not enough for the album to sound like the 1980s, it has to look like them, too.

.
TRACK LISTING

1. Baby Don’t Play
2. Candle (feat. Paloalto)
3. I Feel You
4. Rewind
5. Loved
6. John Doe
7. One Black Night
8. Back
9. Oppa
10. Faded Love
11. Gone
12. Remember

1980s pop musical tributes may not quite be a dime a dozen at the moment, but they’re certainly in vogue. When someone as big as Taylor Swift decides to emblazon her polaroid-inspired album artwork with the title “1989”, you just know a trend is in motion. Synth hooks, big bass and full-ham electronic mixing are all back and you don’t have to look very hard to find them, as this entertaining 2014 list from Pigeons & Planes paints clear as day. And that’s amazing, because the musical quirks that define a “1980s sound” are pretty damn fun, particularly when used skilfully. Trend or no, I’ve always got time for a good 1980s inspired album.

REBOOT, the aptly named, long-awaited comeback piece from one-time Korean supergroup Wonder Girls, is a very good 1980s inspired album.

Continue reading

Album Review: Worlds – Porter Robinson

Time for another all-too-uncommon album review, this time from guest writer, graphic artist and DJ extraordinaire Youniversal.

—Written by Youniversal—

—Edited/formatted by Vagrantesque—

-◊-◊-◊-◊-
Released:
August 2014
Label:
Virgin Records
Genre: EDM
-◊-◊-◊-◊-

 

All ethereal-like.

.
TRACK LISTING

1. Divinity (feat. Amy Millan)
2. Sad Machine
3. Years of War (feat. Breanne Duren & Sean Caskey)
4. Flicker
5. Fresh Static Snow
6. Polygon Dust (feat. Lemaitre)
7. Hear the Bells (feat. Imaginary Cities)
8. Natural Light
9. Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)
10. Sea of Voices
11. Fellow Feeling
12. Goodbye To a World

There comes a time in every conceptual cycle where the new kid on the block finds a unique answer to the age old question: “What comes next?” On August 12th 2014, 22 year old Porter Robinson released a masterpiece that used its devices to break the limitations of what the industry would consider EDM. ‘Worlds’ is a 12 piece synthpop album that takes the charm of a late 90’s 32-bit title and the flare of otaku culture, then shoves them together to produce what you could call a beautifully glitchy nostalgic mess. Using the english vocaloid AVANNA by Zero G and the help of artists such as Amy Millan and Urban Cone, Robinson guides his listeners through a universe of escapism and the unlikely relationships that blossom between reality and the digital world.

Continue reading